1. We partake of the Lord’s Supper as embodied beings.
The Communion meal involves us in and embraces us in God’s grace. We are not mere observers. We do something. We eat something. We become participants in the story. Again and again John Calvin speaks of the Supper as a banquet in which we feed on Christ. “Our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ,” he says, “in the same way that bread and wine keep and sustain physical life.” The French Confession of Faith of 1559 says, “The body and the blood of Jesus Christ give food and drink to the soul, no less than bread and wine nourish the body.” We are often quick to talk about being fed by the word of God, or we pray that we might be fed by the word as it is preached. In the same way, we can be fed by Communion. As physical food, bread and wine satisfy our bodies with carbohydrates, sugars, and nutrients; as spiritual food, they satisfy our souls with Christ.
2. The Lord’s Supper reminds us we depend on God for sustenance.
Every meal—not just Communion, but including Communion—is a reminder that we are dependent on God as creatures. We are not self-sustaining. Much of our food is grown, processed, distributed, and possibly cooked by other people. We are part of a complex web of relationships upon which we rely day by day. And behind them all is our loving Creator, who generously provides for the needs of his creation. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). But the Communion meal is special. For Communion is also a recognition that we are dependent on God not just as creatures but also as sinners. We live through the death of his Son. Each mouthful is a reminder that we cannot save ourselves. Just as we rely on daily bread for physical life, so we rely on Jesus for spiritual life. For he is the bread of life.
3. The Lord’s Supper can be a model for our everyday suppers.
What we learn and practice around the Communion table is meant to spill out into the rest of our lives. The grace we receive at Communion is meant to shape the way we relate to other people. One of the main ways we can do that is through meals. The saying of grace at every family meal is energized by the focus on grace at the Communion meal. Every meal becomes an occasion for gratitude. But Communion also helps our meals become occasions for giving. Meals are a powerful expression of welcome and friendship in every culture. So eating with people creates community and proclaims grace.
4. Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper through the Spirit.
Communion is not just bread and wine; it is bread and wine with a liturgy (whether formal or informal), prayers, and Bible readings in the context of a community of faith. When we think about Christ’s presence in Communion, we should not look at the bread and wine as objects in isolation. We need to lift our eyes and see the whole meal. The bread does not mystically change us, as if it is some kind of medicine. But neither is it merely a memory aid that touches our minds. It is part of a wider shared activity through which Christ is present by his Spirit.
5. The Lord’s Supper is a way to commune with Christ.
So the Lord’s Supper is not simply “a means of grace.” It is a means of communion. This is the place where we come to commune with Christ, to experience afresh the fruit of our union with him. When we are weary, doubting, fearful, guilt ridden, frustrated, proud, anxious, we come to the bread and wine. We receive them as a sign of our union with Christ and a means of our communion with him. In this way he nourishes our souls.
6. The Lord’s Supper is a reminder.
Communion is a regular reminder of all that God has done for us in Christ. Communion is more than a memorial. Remembering is not the only thing that is happening, and in fact the call to remember is not mentioned in Matthew and Mark’s account of the Last Supper. Nevertheless, Communion is certainly not less than a memorial. Remembering is a central element in the Lord’s Supper. After all, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24–25). Perhaps it should have been enough for God simply to tell us what he had done. Perhaps it should be enough for us simply to exhort one another to remember God’s grace. But God in his kindness, knowing how frail we are, knowing how battered by life we can be, also gives us physical reminders of his grace in water, bread, and wine.
7. The Lord’s Supper offers assurance of pardon.
Communion brings the past event of Christ’s death into the present. We remember, but by remembering we make the benefits of his death our own. The past becomes a present reality, and we are assured of the forgiveness of our sins.
8. The Lord’s Supper invites God to keep his covenant promise.
When we celebrate Communion “in remembrance” of Jesus, we are not simply recalling the past. We are calling on God to act in keeping with his covenant promises. We are asking him to forgive our sins through the blood of Jesus. When we remember this moment in the Lord’s Supper, it is as if we were there at the Last Supper. Jesus renews the covenant with us. He signs it with us as we drink the wine. It is as if we are shaking hands on his covenant promise afresh.
9. The Lord’s Supper shapes our character.
Christian formation takes place in more ways than simply through sermons. Lessons learned through participating in the life of the community are often just as formative as lessons learned from the pulpit. For these are the lessons that become habitual and instinctive. This instinctive response (for good or ill) is what we call “character.” A godly character is a character that instinctively responds in godly ways. It is the accumulation of repeated gospel thinking, gospel choices, and gospel actions. Godliness becomes our reflexive response to the challenges of life. And character development does not just happen in lessons. The Lord’s Supper is one way in which a gospel life becomes instinctive. The Supper is one of the God-given means through which we habituate the gospel. As we participate in the drama enacted in the Lord’s Supper week after week in the context of the Christian community, the truths it embodies become instinctive.
10. The Lord’s Supper looks ahead.
The Lord’s Supper also points forward to the final eternal banquet promised by Isaiah. Luke’s account of the Last Supper is bookended by references to Christ’s return (Luke 22:14–18, 28–30). Jesus says, “I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:16; also v. 18). Just as Jesus eagerly desired to eat the first Lord’s Supper with his friends (Luke 22:15), so now he eagerly waits to eat the eternal Supper with his bride. Paul would later say that in the Communion meal we proclaim the Lord’s death “until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).